Navy Family Moves Into RV, Files Lawsuit After Mold Exposure At Tinker AFB
MIDWEST CITY, Oklahoma - Some of our country’s finest at Tinker Air Force Base say they have been forced to live in unsanitary conditions. Mold, flooding, asbestos are among the problems many families say they have faced.
It was October 2018, when News 9 first reported the problem.
Rachel Cole and her family transferred to Tinker Air Force Base from Virginia Beach in 2017. Cole said there were holes in the walls and carpet, mold, and paintball paint “everywhere.”
“Within about three weeks of us living there, the whole house flooded on the first floor,” said Cole.
The family said they contacted maintenance several times and very little if anything was ever done.
“That whole upper area of the HVAC unit was full of mold and a light just went off,” said Cole. “Oh my gosh, this is what has been making us sick, we are breathing in mold.”
Cole said her husband suffered from gastrointestinal issues and her oldest daughter developed anxiety. Her oldest son had a constant runny nose and would throw up at random.
Cole said she herself developed anxiety, which later grew into depression, and she eventually became suicidal.
The family thought the worst was over, but then Cole and her husband received a bill for $3,662.25 from privatized housing company Balfour Beatty Communities LLC. for things such as carpet replacement, painting and satellite dish removal.
Cole said she’s not convinced the carpet in her former home was ever replaced.
“The community manager, unfortunately, chose to be condescending telling me how disappointed she was in the home,” said Cole. “Especially with the condition that we had moved in that we hadn't cleaned it enough, even though we were paying them to clean.”
The bill was sent to collections a little over a month after. Now, Cole said her husband's job is on the line.
“If they see that on his report, they can say, ‘you know, this guy might not be the best guy to be handling security documents,’” said Cole. “Let's not give him his security clearance.”
Left high and dry, a 250-square-foot RV across the street from Tinker is now where the family calls home. A high interest loan helped the family pay for it.
At least four other families call an RV home too.
Tinker officials said they have discovered a total of 243 health and safety issues in nearly 200 homes.
“We've gone in and more than doubled the size of that housing office and created an internal mandate that they will investigate 100 percent of the safety and health on the repair of Balfour Beatty actually executes on the homes,” said Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing Commander.
A CBS News - Reuter's investigation revealed Balfour Beatty allegedly falsified maintenance response times in order to qualify for nearly $800 million in bonuses throughout the 50-year contract serving over 50 installations.
Marketing & Communications Senior Vice President Maureen Omrod of Balfour Beatty Investments told News 9 the company disputes the $800 million figure due to different variables involved but won't release their own figure.
Balfour Beatty released this statement to News 9:
“Ensuring all of our military residents have access to safe, quality homes is our highest priority and we take any allegation that we have fallen short of that standard extremely seriously. Balfour Beatty Communities does not condone the falsification of records and has adopted strong policies and procedures to prevent any such activity. We operate according to a stringent Code of Conduct which those who work with and for us are expected to adhere to, and we take appropriate actions against those who are found in violation. We are working closely with the Air Force during their investigation into the alleged activities raised by former employees, which date back to 2013.
Over the past year, we have implemented extensive enhancements to our work order process. These enhancements include investing in significant upgrades to our Resident Portal technology to improve transparency through a 24/7 web-based tool/mobile app that allows residents to submit and track work orders online, including the ability to upload photos and videos. We have also adjusted our process to ensure every work order remains open and active until the resident signs off and indicates the work has been completed to their satisfaction.
We remain fully committed to providing safe, high quality homes to military housing residents and ensuring the provision of a supportive and responsive customer service team at Tinker Air Force Base and throughout our military housing portfolio.”
A $750 billion defense bill recently passed the Senate, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe says, to fix the problem.
“I think the most important thing is that we made it very clear to our captains, our military that they are back in the driver’s seat,” said Inhofe. “Saying they are going to have to hear these complaints and respond to them.”
The Cole family admitted they have their doubts about the future. The family is now taking the matter to court to send a message.
“Just fix the problems already, this should not be rocket science,” said Cole. “There are rules, so let’s follow them, let’s make sure we're doing the right thing.
It could be well over a year before the case goes to trial. In the meantime, the Cole Family said they are ready to leave the state.
When asked about the welfare of the Cole family, Balfour Beatty Communities spokeswoman Maureen Omrod responded with this statement.
“We are aware of the formal complaint filed by the Coles, and are actively defending against all claims. Because this is pending litigation, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.
The well-being of service members and their families living in our communities is our top priority. We are committed to the continuous improvement of our military housing communities, including at Tinker AFB, and have focused on delivering new tools and expanded resources designed to ensure we are providing the highest quality living experience.”
Officials at Tinker Air Force base said they’ve taken the following initiatives/proactive measures to correct housing issues on base:
- Changed HMO (Housing Management Office) to MHO (Military Housing Office) and doubled its manpower. Goal to review 100% health/safety work of BBC.
- AFCEC hired a Regional Construction Manager (RCM) assigned at and dedicated to Tinker as third-party evaluator of BBC repairs
- Town Halls are 72 ABW, AFCEC and BBC presenting updates/info to tenants while receiving any and all tenant feedback. Occur every ~4-6 weeks
- Resident Council: comprised of reps from every base neighborhood, to meet weekly and gain ear of installation commander weekly (in work)
- 1-800 24/7 helpline for residents (paid/provided by AFCEC) for any concerns of any tenant who can’t gain resolution locally
If you would like to donate to military families in need, click here to visit the Military Matters Foundation.